Article by Matt Tobutt

There’s a rapidly growing library of books on the topic of coaching. Pretty much all of them will provide the author’s own take on the definition of coaching and mentoring and what skills coaches should have. Coaching is still a relatively new professional area and it’s worth reading and noticing some of the differences in people’s views.

Some of my thoughts:

On the difference between coaching and mentoring – a mentor is a subject matter expert (be it engineering, law, or leading). However the transfer of knowledge is still done using a coaching approach. Almost all industry competency frameworks such as the EMCC’s (European Mentoring and Coaching Council) are the same for coaches and mentors, for this reason.

On what is great coaching – it’s an intervention focused on developing skills and performance. It can be 1-2-1 or a coach can work with a group or team. For me the key to really great coaching is that the coach is a facilitator of reflective learning. This means that the coachee is in control of the process, they need to be motivated to learn, and critically it’s them doing the real thinking and gaining real learning as a result.

[This is why I think coaches should have at least a foundation understanding of learning and learning theory.]

There are a number of competency frameworks which are normally referred to when people talk about professional development for coaches. While there are differences between them there’s also a huge amount of commonality. In fact there’s significant consensus of what the skills/competencies for coaches are or should be. I think it’s really important for coaches to have an awareness of these frameworks and I’d recommend professionals coaching/mentoring as part of their work take a look at the framework from the ICF (International Coach Federation), the EMCC (the European Mentoring and Coaching Council), and the UK’s AC (association for Coaching).

There’s nothing in those frameworks that’s likely to surprise anyone. In fact I was recently working with a group of engineers in the oil industry who are working towards a coaching/mentoring qualification and I asked them on day 1 of the workshop to list the skills they thought a good coach/mentor should have. The lists they created were also very similar to the competency frameworks provided by industry bodies. Things that consistently come up on these lists include; listening skills, questioning skills, building and maintaining relationships and so on. So, these frameworks are not necessarily rocket science to create – but they are extremely important.

The frameworks are important because when we ask coaches to reflect on their practice as a way of reviewing their effectiveness and looking for opportunities for continuous development, these competency models provide an important structure and framework. So after a session a coach can reflect and ask questions of themselves around the frameworks, e.g. how well did I Build the coaching relationship? How might I have been better at building the relationship? etc.

HumanTechnics specialise in professional development for people coaching in organisations. We use a framework we’ve developed ourselves specifically for this purpose of review and setting development goals.

It’s called the ‘HumanTechnics Model Coach’. It brings together many of the key elements of the frameworks provided by the leading industry bodies.

The key function of the HumanTechnics model is about understanding what good coaching skills look like so professionals can construct and review against specific development goals.

Some of the elements that are specific to the HumanTechnics model include; an emphasis on reflective practice skills as a way of supporting effective continuous professional development (through significantly enhanced self-awareness), and a focus on industry knowledge and related literature which is tested in the coursework elements submitted to the University to gain the HumanTechnics Advanced Certificate in Executive coaching.

This is the HumanTechnics Model Coach Competency framework.

The Model Coach is/has:

  • A reflective practitioner
  • Excellent at building/maintaining rapport
  • Flexible to client’s individual preferences
  • Expertise in using language
  • Expertise in using questions
  • Breadth of processes/tools
  • Sound ethics and contracting approach
  • Well grounded in theory and related industry knowledge
  • A solid; confident; self-aware professional

I think the above is common sense, but the value of having a practical and pragmatic framework that enables coaches to think about their skills, knowledge and confidence is significant. It’s an important aid in developing competencies, self-awareness and the reflective practice skills which underpin continuous improvement.

The difference between good coaching and excellent coaching can be very subtle, often hard to spot. The real difference is in the experience for the coachee. It can come from the coaches ability to build a trusting relationship, in the questions used to facilitate reflection and reflective learning, or it can be in the pauses in dialog that are just long enough to allow the coachee to do the real thinking.

Coaching is done live, in real time, with real people, and even the greatest most talented coaches are not always perfect every time with every coachee. But great coaches have the self-awareness to notice and reflect on their coaching sessions. They Review both the good and the bad. They have the reflective practice skills to put their self-awareness to good use by asking questions about how they might tackle things differently in future. They reflect on their skills against a competency framework and they look for opportunities to continuously improve their skills and knowledge.

There’s a huge opportunity to learn. There’s plenty of questioning models, models around building deep trusting relationships, models around using language to influence and facilitate learning, and a huge amount to read around the theoretical aspects of coaching. For professionals serious about their professional development their training with us on a HumanTechnics programme is only the start of life long journey of refining professional excellence.